Where were you when the country was being robbed, Anwar?

Kua Kia Soong, Free Malaysia Today

The “PM-indeterminate” Anwar Ibrahim seems to have picked the wrong example to try to be on the right side of the ever-determined prime minister. He has lambasted one of Malaysia’s more honest academics, Lim Teck Ghee, for apparently “keeping quiet during the era of corruption and theft under the BN government” just because Lim called the Pakatan Harapan (PH) record since the 2018 general election “an unmitigated disaster”.

Anwar should be more cautious when picking quarrels with Malaysian human rights defenders who have been exposing corruption, injustice and inequality since at least the 1970s. Does Anwar himself have the credentials for being consistent in exposing corruption in this country? Was Anwar himself corruption-free when he was deputy prime minister in Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s first term as PM? He should examine his own record before casting the first stone at Lim.

Did Anwar speak out against the perversion of NEP statistics?

Anwar may be unaware of the fact that only a few years ago, in a rare example of professional integrity in Malaysia, Lim resigned as the research director of the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute’s (ASLI) Centre for Public Policy Studies over the perversion of statistics on ownership of capital according to ethnicity in Malaysia. Lim’s report had concluded that Bumiputera corporate equity ownership was much higher than that shown in government statistics.

In response, Mirzan Mahathir, the prime minister’s son and then president of ASLI, released a statement saying that Lim’s report was flawed in its methodology and assumptions, and its conclusions could not be “vigorously justified”. Lim’s resignation followed soon after.

Lim’s professional reputation extends globally to him having held posts as United Nations regional adviser and that of World Bank senior political scientist, besides being the recipient of many international academic awards. Compared to Lim, has Anwar ever spoken out against the continued perversion of NEP statistics on ownership of equity capital according to ethnicity?

When did Anwar first speak out against corruption during Mahathir’s first term?

We know that Anwar started speaking out against corruption under the first Mahathir administration when he was making his pitch against Mahathir and just before he was incarcerated by Mahathir in 1998. But all the time he was a member of Mahathir’s Cabinet, did Anwar ever speak out against corruption and the sensational financial scandals that have plagued Malaysia since the 1980s? These were, namely:

* The RM1.6 billion Maminco-Makuwasa scandal,

* The RM2.5 billion Bank Bumiputra Malaysia Finance (BMF) scandal,

* The RM31.5 billion forex that Anwar, then finance minister, had assured Parliament was only a “paper loss”, and the

* The RM9.9 billion losses by Perwaja Steel.

Lim’s expose of the perversion of NEP statistics was highly relevant to understanding the causes of these sensational financial scandals that characterised the Mahathir era. From a political scientist’s perspective, the scandals were clearly a consequence of the behaviour of the burgeoning Malay capitalist class in charge of the state that was using “Bumiputeraism” as the carte blanche for maximixing its business exploits with little regard for accountability.

Did Anwar speak out against Mahathir’s privatisation spree?

In reality, the privatisation policy under Mahathir’s rule from 1981 involved Umno-linked businessmen using personal connections to influence the allocation of those favours. Since that time, Bumiputeras have been given, among other privileges, priority for government contracts, increased access to capital, opportunities to buy assets that are privatised and other subsidies. Those who benefited most from these privatisation transfers were the Umno capitalists.

Before his pitch in 1998, did Anwar speak out against Mahathir handing these multi-billion projects to Umno-controlled companies without any competitive tender?

Did Anwar take part in building favoured ‘Bumiputera capitalists’?

During Mahathir’s tenure as prime minister, three main Umno officials focused their attention on building “Bumiputera capitalists”. This was facilitated after Umno was declared illegal in 1988 and its assets were required to be sold off. The three were Mahathir himself, Daim Zainuddin, who was his finance minister during two phases in Mahathir’s term, and thirdly, Anwar who, before his downfall in September 1998, was second in power to Mahathir. All three had their respective corporate connections.

In 1993, during the power struggle within Umno, Halim Saad had to relinquish Renong’s interest in TV3 and New Straits Times Press to businessmen allegedly linked to Anwar since Anwar wanted control over the media in his bid for the deputy presidency of Umno. It provoked an academic observer, Terence Gomez, to ask:

“How could a company with only RM100,000 paid-up capital seize control of an RM800 million media empire overnight?”

Did Anwar’s relatives profit from preferential share allocation?

The periodic power struggles within Umno often produced unexpected revelations of great interest to the people. Thus, in November 1994 it was revealed that relatives of prominent Umno politicians had been profiting from the preferential share-allocation scheme originally designed to help ordinary Malays under the NEP. Among these were Mirzan Mahathir, son of the prime minister; Marzuki Ibrahim, brother of then deputy premier Anwar, and Fazrin Azwar, son-in-law of then international trade and industry minister Rafidah Aziz, who happened to chair the allocation committee. This information was only leaked to the public by Rafidah because she wanted to show that it was not just her son-in-law who had gained from the allocations. Did such “preferential share allocation” amount to corruption, Anwar?

Once Anwar was regarded by Mahathir as a potential rival and from the time of Anwar’s political demise at the hands of Mahathir in 1998, the firms linked to the former deputy prime minister were either taken over by pro-Mahathir management or they switched allegiance to Mahathir.

Did Anwar himself practise crony capitalism?

After Anwar was arrested in 1998, then Mahathir-controlled New Straits Times began to spill the beans regarding his alleged cronyism. The newspaper revealed that one of his allies – former Penang Umno Youth chief Abdul Rahim Ghouse – was a director and/or shareholder of 44 companies.

This was followed a few days later by revelations of other aides and allies of the former deputy prime minister with links to some 300 firms, including Anwar’s former private secretary Nasaruddin Jalil (112 companies); former political secretary Sarit Yusoh (80); another Anwar ally Ahmad Saad (53); senator Ghazi Ramli (43); former Negeri Sembilan Umno Youth chairman Ruslan Kassim (50) and Umno MP Ruhanie Ahmad (42). Anwar’s own father, Ibrahim Abdul Rahman, was reportedly on the board of more than 50 companies.

Mahathir’s favoured “Bumiputera entrepreneurs” included Tajudin Ramli, Yahaya Ahmad, Halim Saad, Samsudin Abu Hassan and Wan Azmi Wan Hamzah. All these nominees were presumably Umno’s nominees who were holding these business interests on behalf of Umno. Mahathir’s own children didn’t do too badly either – in 2011, Forbes named Mokhzani as the 15th richest Malaysian, worth US$560 million.

Have you spoken out against the current ‘kleptocratic cronyism’, Anwar?

More recently, PKR elder Syed Husin Ali has spoken out against what he calls the current “kleptocratic cronyism” under the present Mahathir PH regime. We have not heard a squeak from Anwar regarding this outburst from his party’s respected elder.

Will Anwar stay quiet during this new era of “kleptocratic cronyism” until he thinks the time is ripe for calling the present Mahathir administration’s array of disappointments – including education, governance, race relations, religion, the Zakir Naik controversy, Malay Dignity Congress, and the non-ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) – “an unmitigated disaster”?

Kua Kia Soong is the adviser to Suaram.